Creating positive learning environments for students, staff, and families is a priority for many school and community leaders. While the language and approach to creating a positive culture may vary – often depending on the kinds of issues that school staff focus on – the key component to all effective approaches is always positive and healthy relationships.
Healthy relationships are about those connections between people that increase well-being, are mutually enjoyable, and enhance or maintain each individual’s positive self-concept.
Whether the approach is to focus on social emotional learning, character education, or bullying prevention, research shows that healthy relationships will support learning engagement and positive mental health.
Promoting healthy relationships starts with believing that everyone is equal and has inherent value. It builds on the understanding that differences are not what set people apart. Rather, differences are an expression of diversity that need to be embraced and valued. Diversity is what makes our schools and communities strong and vibrant. Everyone benefits from valuing diversity because everyone is encouraged to be themselves.
To have a welcoming, caring, safe, and respectful school culture means positive relationships between staff, students, families, and community members are evident throughout the school community. This begins with school staff committing to knowing who their students are as individuals and demonstrating positive regard for all students. Research shows that when a student feels connected to at least one caring adult in the school environment, that student is more likely to view school positively and more likely to complete high school.
There are students who arrive at school with limited relationship skills and experiences and this can be at the root of problem behaviour, disengagement, and conflict with others. To overcome these challenges, students need to experience positive relationships with caring adults, observe positive role models, and receive explicit instruction in the skills essential to positive relationships, such as handling emotions, cooperating with others, resisting inappropriate social pressure, resolving conflict and seeking help when needed.
There are many approaches schools may choose to promote the development of healthy relationships. For examples Safe and Caring is currently working with educators at Mistassiniy School in Wabasca, Alberta to deliver Aggression Replacement Training (ART) with local students. Programs like ART offer strategies for working through challenging social and emotional issues with students, and equip children and youth with the tools needed to respond to complex social situations in a way that promotes healthy relationships and prevent bullying or aggressive behaviour. To learn more about the program, check out our project webpage.